What follows is not representative of Deleuze’s aion. It is my reading and the flaws in it are also mine.
Aion is a pure surface in contact with the outside. It has no immemorial or historic depth to it. Pure surface, it is opposed to chronological time, or chronos.
Chronos allows metaphors, such as depth – the depths of history or memory – and those spatial metaphors derived from geometry and mechanics – a linear, circular time, the wheel of time and the time of mechanical causation, acceleration and dynamic action and reaction. Chronos is metrical, the time of measure and mathematical judgement. Chronos is figurative, can be represented in linguistic and mathematical codes and symbolic registers. Finally, chronos represents time and is what we normally talk about in dealing with representations of time.
The necessity for another understanding of time, aion, comes from the intuition that the present is unrepresentable. However, aion does not connote the present. Aion is in contact with this present, its surface pressed to it.
The problem, therefore, addressed by the concept of aion as a schema of time is the special status of the present. The past may be knowable and the future unknowable but the present can only be a subject of incomplete representation. It is never quite there, never entirely there. It never fully expresses itself – in figural or figurative terms, in symbolic or material registers – and must remain open both to the fully realised past and to the as yet unrealised future.
Aion is not just another word for the present, it regards the present as the outside and it is in regard to the present that it arises as problem and fact. The outside, then, consists of you and I in an unquantifiable present, a present, that is, unquantifiable by or according to chronos. The outside is everything that is in this present moment. It is possessed of all the forces that are brought to bear at a singular point in time which itself is unqualifiable, unable to be given a place or position except in relation, and a present which is literally and exactly incapable of taking place. Place comes, or the place the present left a moment ago, comes after, from a knowable and representable past, from a realised time, chronos. Place is a quantifiable dimension of time and belongs to chronos.
The reason to talk as if forces were taking control and overrunning the present is to point to that of which we are all too aware in subjective experience: that we plug in the past, the realised, the quantified, knowledge, identity and material and symbolic entities to what exists for us in the present moment. We extract forces from things and subjects only in so far as the present, our present, is invested in them, interest, the interest of forces soon to be annihilated, in a moment. We feel affects from objects and others only in so far as they are capable of taking place in a present traversed by forces. These forces occupy the outside, they are the outside into which we are plugged and into which we plug what is affectless, inert, anorganic and lifeless. The world as represented somehow achieves and gets to this present, this outside, which cannot be represented.
Aion provides the point of achievement and getting to whereby the world is then accessible to measure and quantity, to scientific and mathematical intelligibility. The movement whereby the world crosses from the future to arrive in the past is through an outside. This movement is absolute rather than able to be relativised according to fixed points. It is the movement of the present and a passage over and against aion’s pure surface. The word ‘pure’ is meant to reinforce the dimensionlessness of the surface not to impose or import an hierarchy or morality.
If the present is absolute movement, the play of a multiplicity of forces, then aion is pure surface. Aion gives a temporal record of an absolute movement without coordinates.
Relative movement occurs with coordinates; points are already in play, in position. By permitting the taking place of the present, its occupation by the forces of the outside, plugging in, aion shows that both movement and points must be created. Chronos will be the sort of time in which points and movement are coordinated but is not the sort of time necessary for their creation because chronos cannot get near enough to the present that is unrepresentable. But then aion is like the membrane the need for representation would interpose between chronos and this outside present.
In fact, the relation works the other way around: aion gives rise to chronos through its contact with all that can be said to be. Since the existence of both the past and present may be refuted but that of the present is irrefutable.
Movement must be created. Aion is the edge or skin of this creation as it presses against the outside. On its surface – which is why it is never pure in the sense of importing or having an hierarchy or morality imposed upon it – the relative points of singular movements, the lived moments of singular durations are made and appear. Aion embodies the play of infinitesimals on its surface; which means aion embodies all movement as that between and among differences in intensity, giving rise to the singularities that chronos takes and represents along physical and no longer absolute registers.
Aion because it is a pure surface in contact with the forces of the outside and the absolute present and because it skins or covers the process of a universal creation in terms of all movement itself moves outward. It is like a tsunami advancing irresistably against which we stand for a moment and into which we disappear. It is also like a seam or fold extending the length of time and reaching to the depths of space and carrying all of time and space along with it.
This description of aion was included at the end of a short email exchange with Justin B. Rye. I had initially sent Justin the briefest of notes saying that he’d left Deleuze’s aion out of A Guide To SF Chronophysics , where it might not belong, but the possibility it could – the epithet ‘science fiction’ is not altogether misplaced in application to Deleuze’s writing – and that its inclusion might upset some or all of the laws said to apply to temporal schema (or “chronophysics”) in even their fictional deployment was prompt enough for a note. Justin responded with
I’d never heard of Deleuze’s aion. Googling for it, it looks like the
usual kind of timewasting wordgames churned out by professional
obfuscationists. Can you suggest some reason anybody with a
functioning brain should take it seriously? What, for instance, are
the real-world phenomena that it claims to provide a better
explanation for than alternative approaches?
His last email to me provided a running commentary – through-written – on the preceding description of aion which remains entirely and uniformly consistent with this response.”This is such overwritten nonsense it might as well be a hymn to Hulmu,” he interjects at his wittiest. He offers to fetch me a straitjacket and ends writing, “I’m sorry, the only thing it’s much like is a load of old toss.” Strangely, his sign-off throughout our correspondence was
JBR Ankh kak! (Ancient Egyptian blessing)
Perhaps what he says is true.
But I am interested in hearing your reaction.